Allison Posner 10Oct2012 Yiddish Book Center
Topics Yiddish Book Center
, National Yiddish Book Center
, Wexler Oral History Project
, Jewish culture
, Jewish Identity
, Yiddish language
, Post-vernacular uses of Yiddish
, Yiddish Book Center
, Jewish community
, Yiddish revival and activism
, Allison Posner
, Yiddish Farm
, Moyshe's Koshe Bakery
Allison Posner, Yiddish teacher and former Yiddish Book Center fellow, was interviewed by Lynn Yanis on October 10, 2012 at the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Producer Yiddish Book Center (Chad)Audio/Visual sound, color
Allison begins the interview discussing her family background, describing how she was raised as the product of an interfaith marriage in a non-Jewish household. She then goes on to explain how her father’s family—the Jewish side of the family—celebrated and interpreted Jewish traditions through an assimilated and non-religious perspective.
Allison had a Yiddish-speaking grandmother, and talks about growing up with a Yiddish-influenced vocabulary. She discusses being raised in a very non-Jewish town in Connecticut, and how she was surprised to later learn that her vocabulary included non-standard Yiddishisms. She identified comfortably as Jewish/half-Jewish. She describes how in college, she learned that she was technically not Jewish. This erasure of her identity was profound, and has presented deep existential issues that she grappled with throughout college, her years studying and translating Yiddish, and into the present.
Allison recalls fond memories of her experiences at Moishe’s Yiddish Bakery, a cultural center/bakery run by a Yiddish-speaking Holocaust survivor named Scheindel on Grant Street in the Lower East Side of New York City. She reflects on the bakery’s environment and clientele to talk about being modern and non-Orthodox in this setting. For Allison, Yiddish enables her to connect with people who are culturally very different, and she reflects with great intelligence on accents, vocabulary, and Yiddish translation. She engages profoundly with questions about connections, conversion and her Jewish identity, with specific reference to beloved Chabadnik (adherents of Chabad, a Hasidic movement within Orthodox Judaism) relatives and her personal skepticism about conversion.
Towards the end of the interview, Allison reflects on the role of religion in understanding Yiddishkeit. Believing that religious context is crucial to understanding Yiddishkeit and translating Yiddish writers, she posits the rhetorical question: “Can Yiddish exist outside of a Jewish context?” She goes on to share her personal experiences and perspectives on the state of Yiddish as a living language in the secular vs. Chasidic Jewish communities. She end the interview stressing how important Jewish traditions (ethical, religious, and secular day-to-day) are to understanding Yiddish culture.
To learn more about the Wexler Oral History Project, visit: http://www.yiddishbookcenter.org/tell-your-story
To cite this interview: Allison Posner Oral History Interview, interviewed by Lynn Yanis, Yiddish Book Center's Wexler Oral History Project, Karmazin Recording Studio, Yiddish Book Center, October 10, 2012. Video recording, https://archive.org/details/AllisonPosner10oct2012YiddishBookCenter ( [date accessed] )